There is a sense of anxiety before any NASCAR race, but events at the two restrictor plate racetracks have hearts pacing at an abnormally rapid rate.
This past weekend’s events at Talladega Superspeedway had a different vibe, one that has begun to raise more questions than plate races in the past. It sounds cliche, but every racecar driver knows the high risk of what they are about to do when they step behind the wheel on race day. It’s common sense. If they didn’t have the guts to do it, they wouldn’t.
As technology helps teams understand the aerodynamics of cars more and more year-after-year, speeds will increase and competition can go either two ways — increase or decrease. At the restrictor plate tracks, competition has increased, as shown this past weekend.
In a race that featured a level of intensity that is even rare for NASCAR, the potential rain near the halfway point of the race didn’t help. The race became increasingly intense, lap-after-lap. Going three and even four-wide at times, competition appeared to be different on Sunday, in a both good and bad way.
Now, the future rule packages for two of NASCAR’s most popular racetracks is in question, and a change might be imminent.
Q: This weekend’s races at Talladega were each more intense than year’s past, and the wrecks seemed worse than usual. Is there anything that can be done to make Daytona and Talladega less dangerous? – Drew R., Detroit.
A: With anything that NASCAR does, it will take plenty of research and discussions to even come close to making a change. While I do not believe a change will happen this year, something will be done by the time NASCAR hits the high banks of Daytona
International Speedway come February.
Think about it: There are always going to be major wrecks at Daytona and Talladega. It’s just a part of how the racing is, and frankly, it is a tradition at this point.
Having a major unknown come four races each year is somewhat refreshing, especially for smaller teams that usually have a shot at finishing no better than 30th at an intermediate track. Plus, the exposure a team can gain from running up front in high-profile events like Daytona and Talladega is priceless.
However, the danger of racing at these tracks is increasingly.
Drivers are at the point where they do not want to race at the plate events any more. Kyle Busch no longer races at plate tracks in lower level series after suffering multiple leg injuries last February in an XFINITY Series race at Daytona. Not only is he frightened to do so, but his wife, Samantha, won’t dare let him put himself in danger when he it has no championship implications.
Wait … So does that mean a driver should risk it all, even their life, just for a shot at making the Chase? That just seems ridiculous.
The safety measures that NASCAR has taken are a lot stronger than in the past. With most tracks adding SAFER Barriers all over the walls, drivers have a cushion. But at the same time, when a car gets airborne, that’s when things need to be looked at.
“You have to slow us way down — like 50 mph – or you’re going to have to let us run 250 there and get spread out,” Denny Hamlin proposed Monday during an event at the Concord Boys and Girls Club. “That’s the only way to avoid these massive wrecks. The reason we’re all wrecking in horrific fashion is because if someone gets turned sideways, there’s someone else right there to lift them off.
“As long as there are 20 cars in a one-second pack, it’s going to happen.We talk about this every two to three restrictor-plate races. There just is no fix because we haven’t done it yet. We don’t know. The only thing we can do from my standpoint and the ignorance I have is you have to slow us way down or speed us way up. We have to get spread apart. That’s the only way you’re not going to have these crazy crashes.”
Austin Dillon’s wreck last July at Daytona is just one mere example of what can go wrong. His No. 3 Chevrolet hit the catch fence on the final lap of the Coke-Zero 400, injuring five fans as debris went flying through the broken fence. Why should fans be at risk while watching a race? As ESPN’s Steven A. Smith would say, “it’s blasphemous.”
Brad Keselowski and Carl Edwards had a similar incident on the final lap at Talladega in 2009. Then a rookie, the eventual Cup Series champion got into Edwards in the tri-oval, sending the No. 99 car flying into the fence while going nearly 200 mph. That’s just insane.
While Hamlin’s proposal of taking away horsepower from the racecars would prevent them from flipping. They might still go airborne a bit, but it would be unlikely that they reach the speeds capable of sending a car flipping through the air. However, the one problem with that proposal is that it’s against everything racing stands for. Why would one want to take away speed from a racecar? It’s a
racecar, after all.
“You look at speedway racing 15 to 20 years ago, and the outside line was running the outside and the inside on the inside,” Hamlin explained. “Now we give each other no room for error anymore. We give each other inches in the corner. The person on the top is just sucking down on the door of the guy on the bottom.”
And that’s what NASCAR needs to aim to get back to. The racing at super speedways 15 to 20 years ago featured a field that was spread out, but did not feature a great difference between the front and back of the field.
There have been murmurings of NASCAR attempting to take the restrictor plates off the racecars, but good luck doing that. Seriously, good luck. The low-tier teams wouldn’t have a chance to keep up with the ones with giant power plants under the hood. Additionally, the racing would probably be rather dull. Also, good luck explaining to fans why a driver is hurt after blowing a tire at 250 mph, because it would happen given the banking and age of the surface at Daytona and Talladega.
Said Hamlin: “We’re good, but we’re not that good. We can’t keep the car in a 1-foot space on all four corners. It’s just something we created by the way we’re driving. We’re trying to find every advantage that we can with air, and we have to use that space to get advantages. So I think drivers are just smarter than what they were back then, and until we get spread out, I just don’t know of a good solution.”